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In late April we had a frost. After an unbelievably-mild winter that required only two or three shovellings, and a spring that had us in sandals by March, the raw cold of April 29th came as a harsh surprise. 

That said, what was merely startling to us was devastating to the farms and farmers we call neighbours. The fruit trees — apple, peach, pear, plum, cherry and others — were already festooned with early blooms; the fragile flowers couldn't handle the biting, sudden freeze, and were largely wiped out

So, there's been months of waiting. Talking to friends with farms to see how they're doing, peering down the rows of orchards as we drive by, craning our necks in the hope of seeing some fruit on the branches.  

The good news is, pockets of fruit survived — the yields are low, and the season will be short I hear, but there are peaches. There were cherries too, though less than what we've come to expect.

We are thoroughly spoiled by where we live. Smack-dab in the middle of farmland, there's markets almost every day, and roadside stands full up with produce, well into autumn. We're used to the strawberry festival, the cherry festival, and the peach celebration that closes down the main street of a nearby town every August, and by September we're in the orchards, picking apples for cake. We greedily bide our time until the late-summer glut of fruit arrives, and then snatch up the harvest, flat by flat, to be preserved. 

This year, there won't be that boon. I don't know if there will be peaches for canning, there's hope, but not for certain. And so, what we have is all the more precious. I want to take grateful note, as their time is fleeting. 

We often take those days of feast for granted. We've fogotten our luck at what we have nearby.

We bought our first basket of peaches. They smelled like summer holidays, like nostalgia and growing up. They reminded of humid evenings in the backyard, of shortcakes and crumbles, and fruit eaten out of hand sitting at Mum and Dad's old picnic table, with sticky juice running down to our elbows. They made me think of how we seek out the sweetness in so many things, peaches, plums and nectarines among them, and how we find an edge of sharpness in each bite. 

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I didn't want to muss up these peaches; I wanted them for their simple peachy-ness. Pure, straight fruit, helped along maybe, but not essentially changed. That need manifested into peaches soaked in wine, perfumed by honey and vanilla. I chose not to poach the fruit exactly, rather giving them a gentle bath, in the thought that suggestion of warmth would coax a that bit more vanilla out of that pod, and bring that much more tenderness to the peaches, as if there had been an extra day of sunshine.

The fruit goes into the wine whole and unpeeled. There's rather ceremonial beauty in a peach, served whole. The peels are slipped away, like silk across shoulders, just before eating. The skins leave rosy marks on the flesh of the peaches, and also offer some protection from the simmering wine so that their centres are just barely cooked; they retain the direct sour-sweet of the farmstand, tinged with the taste of the wine. And that wine, well, as the peaches sit their flavour fully blossoms, mingling into the liquid — so that wine makes for a boozy consommé, sparkling, bracing and bright. 

I let some runny crème fraîche meander through the juices, it's twang perfect against that of the fruit. The peaches feel fresh, firm and bouncy cheeked, through-and-through fragrant. I like them very much, straight from the fridge. Their taste is clear, that of a July afternoon without cloud.

There are those moments when I look around and wish I could stop time. I wonder for a way to hold everything, as it is, still and somehow the same, to keep safe for the times ahead, for times of frost and freezing.

This is the closest I've come. 

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PEACHES SOAKED IN VANILLA WINE

The peaches require a few hours to chill, so plan with that in mind.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (500 ml) dryish white wine
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 vanilla pod, split
  • 4 medium peaches, washed, stems removed but left whole
  • Crème fraîche, to serve

In a saucepan that will fit your peaches snugly, stir together the wine and honey. Run the blunt end of a knife across the vanilla bean to scrape out the seeds, add the seeds to the saucepan, along with the pod itself.

Bring the wine mixture to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Allow the wine to bubble gently for a few minutes, until the honey is melted and the mixture starts to thicken just a bit. Carefully lower the peaches into the barely-simmering liquid — they should be submerged — and cook gently for 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat, flip the peaches over, and cover with a lid. Set aside to cool to room temperature, then chill the peaches for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.

When you're ready to eat, carefully remove a peach from the liquid. Gently pinch the skin with your fingers and it should pull away from the flesh. Peel the peach and place it back in the liquid. Repeat with the remaining fruit.

Thin some crème fraîche with a bit of the wine mixture; it's nice at a pouring consistency. To serve, place a peach in a bowl, spoon over some of the wine, followed by the crème fraîche.

Serves 4, or maybe 2, depending on the day. 

Notes:

  • The peaches must be fully covered by the liquid while chilling, or they will discolour. If needed, top up with some extra wine to keep them dunked, or seal out air by pressing a piece of clingfilm against the surface of the peaches.
  • For those who prefer a thicker syrup, the wine can be further reduced after the peaches have had a chance to soak. I'd remove the fruit, boil down the liquid, then get it good and cold again before serving.
  • Any extra wine in left in the pot can be sipped, or reduced to a syrup as above and saved for eating with ice cream.
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I thought it might be a little bit fun to share pictures of some of our summer. Photos of days of holiday; of longer evenings and lazy mornings, of trips to the farm and to the city.

I wanted to go through some odds and ends, all in the aim of the business of catching up.

There were meals out with friends, and peaches on the back porch.

We discovered an addiction to strawberry lemonade popsicles, then green peas lightly braised with shallots and tender lettuces, then salads of summer squash, corn and chili.

We've been bottling up this summer, in glass jars that now are stacked and lined on shelves downstairs. We preserved some whole, made ketchup (!!) and jams, and I'm considering a batch of nectarine chutney or tomatillo salsa before we put the big pots away.

There were carnivals, and roller coasters and one last ride to officially say farewell to the season. 

School's started. There's a small backpack that's taken its place by the front door. There were pumpkins outside the market yesterday and stacked hay bales and lined up corn stalks. Apples are around, too. 

Looking ahead, I'm thinking of pies. I'm itching to get into warm sweaters and scarves, and socks pulled up the knee.

First though, we're planning a trip to Louisville, with thoughts of friends with whom it's been too long since we've shared a meal. There's a whisper of bourbon before dinner and biscuits for breakfast - and I can't decide which excites me more. 

I'll be back with more words and a recipe soon. I'm hanging tight to these moments and not quite ready to let go of them yet.

Until then, friends.

Above photographs taken with my phone.

*******

My pal Justin sent me a book about cookies the other day. It's one with a backstory and an even more important intent. It makes me want to get out the bowls and warm up the oven. If you can give it a look, please do.

*******

mushroom toast

And, finally, I was recently hired to represent Canada in a friendly competition between the United States, Australia and us - over mushrooms. With thoughts of the Maple Leaf Forever and all that, I couldn't turn down the job. If you'd like to find out more, and vote (yup, you get a say in this too), please click over to Mushrooms Canada and Tastespotting for the full explanations.

It involves Butter Roasted Mushrooms, which are something I think you should know about.

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Authortara
Tagssummer
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the last of august

I do believe that summer may have left us.

Despite the weekend's warmth of a sun that seemed especially golden, the rustle of leaves this morning speaks in murmurs of autumn. The sky looks a painterly depiction of the layers of a feathers on a dove's wing. 

I wore jeans the other day, and a shirt with long sleeves. What's worse is that I didn't mind. I may have even cast a longing glance at a pair of wool socks.

And then there's school. Yesterday was the the first for our First, Benjamin's first day at school. Backpack and new shoes, a fresh haircut and the whole nine yards. September is forever changed in what it means to him. And to us, as we zipped up that backpack and mussed up that hair and thought to ourselves, "my, how time does fly."

Not to dwell too long, or next thing you know I'll be humming The Byrds and we'll all be lost. 

Let's rewind. Back to summer. And back to this pie - it's Blackberry Cream Pie, in case you're wondering. And it was the way we said goodbye to our August, with a send off and a salute. 

If you ask me, there's no doubt, blackberries are the end of summer, swallowed whole. I feel like their sourness differs from that of strawberries and raspberries. It seems to hit further back on the tongue, at the back of the jaw and tannic. Like their looks, they taste darker, of fruit that should grow among brambles, of wildness and things overgrown.

And to me, this pie, is all that is an August afternoon, transfixed.

Inspired by a pie from Sweet Fine Day, this version has a golden shortbread crust beneath a filling of whole berries bound by a soft-set blackberry purée. It's voluptuous and beguiling like jelly without the wobble.The whole fruit, those ebony clustered bubbles bursting upon biting, are full of all of August's heat and humidity. 

There's patches of pink where the filling seeps into the pale cream, but mostly the fruit just shines duskily, jet and juicy.

The wind is picking up now, with the curtains at my side puffing in and out with the breath of September. The start of something new is upon us, but this summer, and it was a good one, is still on my mind. 

BLACKBERRY CREAM PIE

Adapted from the Fresh Strawberry Pie from Sweet Fine Day. Most packets of powdered gelatin contain 1 tablespoon, or 3 teaspoons - this recipe will use an entire packet, with 2 teaspoons for the filling and 1 teaspoon reserved for the topping.

FOR THE CRUST

  • 2 cups shortbread cookie crumbs
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

FOR THE FILLING

  • 6 cups blackberries, divided
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons powdered gelatin
  • Ingredients for the topping
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy, whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • Seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon powdered gelatin
  • 2 tablespoons milk

METHOD

To make the crust, preheat an oven to 325°F (160°C). In a large bowl, stir together the cookie crumbs and salt. While stirring, start to drizzle in the butter. Only use enough butter to dampen the crumbs - depending on the cookies used it might be as little as 1 tablespoon or as much as 3. If you compress the crumbs with the back of a spoon they should pack like sand at the beach, but not appear sodden.

Press the crumbs into a 10-inch springform pan, forming an even layer across the bottom and a 3-inch crust up the sides. Bake in the preheated oven until lightly golden and set, around 8-10 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.

To make the filling, take 3 cups of the berries and put them in a medium saucepan with the sugar and the of the salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring, until the fruit becomes soft and the juices begin to thicken, around 7-10 minutes.

Carefully remove the blackberries to a blender (or use an immersion blender), and process until smooth. Push the puréed sauce through a sieve, back into the saucepan. Return to the heat and bring again to a simmer, stirring often. Cook the sauce until it becomes thick, with a clear, glossy look, around 5-7 minutes. You should have around 1 cup of purée.

Off the heat, stir in the lemon zest, followed by the soaked gelatin, stirring quickly to dissolve.

Tumble in the reserved berries, give them a few turns in the pan to coat, then pour into the cooled crust. Refrigerate for 10 minutes to start to firm up.

To make the topping, pour the whipping cream into a bowl along with the sugar and scraped contents of the vanilla bean. Beat the cream to firm peaks, then fold in the sour cream. 

In a small saucepan, soak the gelatin in the milk. Once soaked, heat the gelatin gently over low heat until it melts and the mixture is smooth. Working quickly but gently, fold the gelatin into the whipped cream. Spread the topping over the blackberry filling, return the pie to the fridge and chill until set, around 2 hours. 

To serve, remove from the pan and cut with a warm knife, wiping the blade clean between slices. 

Makes a 10-inch pie.

Notes:

  • I used an oatmeal shortbread cookie to make the crumbs for the crust, but a plain shortbread or graham crackers will work beautifully. In the case of the latter, you will need to use extra melted butter for the crumbs to hold together properly.
  • Earlier this summer I made this pie with raspberries and a graham cracker crust. If they're the berry for you, don't hesitate to do the same. 
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Categoriesbaking, dessert
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humid

Unless I'm forgetting a pivotal rhubarb-related incident from the wilds of my childhood, I do not hold any nostalgia-based predilection for it. Not an ounce, not an iota.

I can't recall my first taste of rhubarb. I can't even tell you, in a tone with longing evident, of the time I had a certain dish that changed my life forever because of its rhubarbed glory.

I learned to cook rhubarb because those I love the most like it very much. A boringly straightforward reason, I know.

It is not for lack of want, because I do believe that everyone should have a rhubarb story. And if I'm being my most upfront self, I should admit it was partly this shortcoming of my storytelling that had me quiet the last few days. You see, I wanted to talk about rhubarb, and the rhubarb syrup that is essential to my new favourite drink, but couldn't decide upon where to begin.

But now I do. The other day I was someone's backyard to celebrate a family birthday. There were ladies in broad sun hats and floral-print dresses. Children, including my own, ran barefoot in determined pursuit of butterflies. There were stories scored by that that specific laughter synonymous with family; familiar, teasing and affectionate.

We walked among flowers in bloom and those just beginning. I walked with Benjamin across soft grass, knelt down to pull back a parasol of leaves to reveal slender stalks of green turned blush. "It's Strawberry Rhubarb," I was told by his Great Grandfather. "That plant has been in our family forever."

You can't beat that.

I hardly would believe this peaceful place smack in middle of a city, at the height of the heat of a hot, hot June day, could exist so perfectly sweetly had I not been there myself. An afternoon when ticks of the clock matched the imagined click of a shutter, each moment a worthy capture and keeping.

That, right there, was my rhubarb moment. It's the story that I'll stick with.

drinking summer

This syrup made its way on the scene earlier than all of that. I made it over a week prior, and have been sipping it steadily in drinks. So steadily, that I've become mildly addicted to it. Muddled with mint, then lightened with sparkling water, it is suggestive of cream soda with a heady, rounded vanilla sweetness, but herbal and sour at the same time.

We're almost out, I'm sorry to say. In happy news, I've just had word that some more rhubarb, from that very garden I mentioned, has been picked and is on its waiting for us. My heart, feet and greedy appetite skipped at that.

If you try this, I think yours might too. Happy summer, friends.

RHUBARB SYRUP

A tweaked version of a Nigella Lawson method. I like my finished syrup to have the approximate consistency of maple syrup. Depending on the rhubarb used and your own tastes, it might be necessary to further reduce the liquid in a saucepan on the stove (after the fruit has been sieved out).

INGREDIENTS

  • A generous 2 pounds (1 kilogram) rhubarb, cleaned and trimmed
  • 3/4 to 1 cup caster sugar
  • 1 fresh vanilla bean, split
  • Juice from half a lime, optional

METHOD

Preheat an oven to 375°F (190 °C).

Cut the rhubarb into chunks, mine were about 2-inches in length. Skinny stalks can be a bit longer, fat ones can be more stout - you want everything to cook in reasonably similar time.

Pour the 3/4 cup of the sugar into a large roasting pan or ovenproof casserole. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean with the dull side of a knife and drop them into the sugar. Add the bean too. Using your hands, rub the vanilla seeds and pod into the sugar, breaking up clumps of seeds as you go. Once thoroughly mixed, add the rhubarb and toss to coat.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil and roast for 35-45 minutes until the rhubarb is soft when pierced with the tip of a knife, but not falling to mush. Remove the foil and roast for another 5-10 minutes, to further reduce the collected liquid (keep in mind, the syrup will continue to thicken as it cools).

Using a fine-meshed sieve, strain the juices from the rhubarb. Stir the fruit to extract as much liquid as possible, but be careful not to push any solids through that might mar the clarity of the syrup. Remove the vanilla pod from the fruit in the sieve.

At this point the fruit can be reserved for another use.

While the syrup is warm but not hot, check for sweetness. Depending on your taste and the specific qualities of your rhubarb, you might want to add a bit more sugar or a squeeze of lime. Once to your liking, chill thoroughly.

The syrup can be used as you would a simple syrup in cocktails and lemonade, or simply over ice with sparkling water and mint. It's particularly nice over scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Keep both the fruit and syrup refrigerated until needed.

Makes around 2 cups, depending on the fruit and the thickness of the reduction.

Notes:

  • I like to fork the fruit into a chunky compote, then eat it with Greek yogurt, and an extra pour of syrup to finish.
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IMG_62342

I won't keep you long because there are strawberries to be eaten and the clock is already tick-tock ticking.

I'll begin with credit where credit is due. What we have here is a recipe from Jamie Oliver, and it's a winner. You take strawberries, lop of their tops so that they're hulled neatly and stand on end like a berried mountain range. You slice a few knobs of stem ginger and pop them in the dish, along with some of their syrup. Then squish out the seeds of a plump vanilla bean over the fruit and toss in the pod after. Last, there's a slosh of Pimm's (No. 1), the gin-based liqueur synonymous with British summer.

I'll stop here for a moment, because the mention of Pimm's makes me weak in the knees. I first came to know it over the summer job that took me through high school. I worked for a theatre company, plays not movies, and each season there was an event that had Pimm's Cup as its signature drink. I can't think of Pimm's without thinking of those wickedly-hot days - the heavy scent of gin, cucumbers and lemon, miles of glasses lined up in rows, full of ice and looking like the most refreshing drink that there ever was.

No. 1 is sunshine and hot shoulders, and the best of those years.

Anyway, back to today, and back to that dish of berries. Tucked under the hottest broiler you can muster, their attentive peaks get lazy in the heat, slouching down and slumping over. They'll be warmed through but not cooked, only enough that the strawberries turn juicy and plush. The preserved ginger has the assertive heat and deep-bellied hum of the June sun, while the suggestion of citrus brought by the Pimm's rings all the high notes.

It's up and down and all around like a roller coaster at the fair. Which is to say, these might be the strawberries to end all strawberries.

I used local fruit, the kind that for 11 months of the year you convince yourself you've imagined in an fit of idealized fancy. And then, blessed be, it is summer and here they are. Fruit ruby to its centre, fragrant in a way that reminds of roses and honey jumbled up together. They are beautiful, yes, but in their irregularity. Nubbled, bumpy - one in our punnet bore a distinct resemblance to a miniature turban squash.

They're strawberries out of Enid Blyton. Rustic and brave - and left whole they have more oomph than is usually attributed to cooked fruit. Good enough that I may have been stingy in my dinner portion one evening, just to leave that much more room for dessert.

But that's just between you and me.

Now, don't dally, off you go while the strawberries are around. See you soon.

melt

GRILLED STRAWBERRIES WITH PIMM'S 

The strawberries are served with softened ice cream, and make sure yours is soft as you want it to further melt into the juices at the bottom of the dish - its texture should match that of the fruit. On top of that is some mashed cookie rubble, and like the crust to a fruit pie it gives foundation to the softness of berry and cream. Finally some mint, which in coincidence always grew beside the strawberries in my childhood garden. Its flavour rubs off unto the berries and seeps into the ice cream very nicely.

Stem ginger in syrup is young, tender ginger that has been peeled then preserved in a sugar syrup.

Recipe, via jamieoliver.com

Notes:

  • I used crushed gingersnaps instead of the shortbread from the recipe - they have a true crunch, rather than the crumble of shortbread, which was what we were looking for. It hardly needs explanation that their flavour boosted and brought a layer of brightness to that of the stem ginger beneath.
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Categoriesdessert, summer
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I was sitting in the front room yesterday, my head bent over a book and my back to the open window. I was preoccupied with the words on the page, and did not fully note the gaining volume of the wind through the trees. What pulled me out of my concentration was a feeling against my neck. It was raining. With that rain had come a cool that entered the house like a spirit, slipping past the windowsill and settling in.

In our part of Ontario, and from what I hear of the Northeastern United States, it has been one wet summer. In fact, we've had rain of every character.

We were prey to fierce thunderstorms. They felt dramatic and enticingly-wild at first, but gathered with such quick extremity that they more than approached threatening. Lightning lit up the sky with violent fireworks. Thunder rattled nerves and set the mind on edge. The house creaked and groaned with the impact of a thousand million blows.

There was the rain that seemed without beginning or end. It was gloomy weather, and the world seemed perpetually sodden. The rain dripped dispiritedly. Damp, dismal, dreary, and just about any other depressing (another one!) d-beginning adjective you could think of.

There came the rain that wasn't rain at all, but something in between humidity and a low-flying cloud. Wetter than fog, the air was full with suspended moisture that slicked all surfaces, both inside and out.

The moments of sunshine we've seen have been fleeting. Most days there has been rain, or the threat of impending rain, with foreboding clouds looming on the horizon, all around.

What with all of our watery forecasts, the smile that tugged at my lips that stormy afternoon might seem unexpected. But despite all the woebegone times of pressing our foreheads to the windowpanes and watching rain fall down, I still fall hard for the moments of enchantment those same rains can bring.

Take yesterday, with its unnatural midday darkness. All was loudly quiet as I moved from room to room, the constant patter of plump drops muffling most other noises. Now and again I could hear children, the little girls from down the street I think, dancing in puddles. Splashes then squeals. Their giggles sharp and joyful, cutting through the din. The street shone wet, gleaming black as the streetlights flickered on.

It was magic. And it was the perfect time for some baking.

Although fruit desserts reign supreme come summertime, I usually think of crisps as the ideal for cooler months. With their slowly-stewed bottoms and buttery crusts, they feel best suited to autumn evenings curled up by the fire. But with the rain we've had, the decidedly unfussy nature of a crisp fit in beautifully with my afternoon plans of busying myself indoors. And as that rain brought cool as its travelling companion, I didn't mind the idea of turning on the oven.

This peach crisp is gloriously uncluttered with nothing else but the essentials. Nothing taxing to muddle about with, only a layer of sweet cream cushioning plump, honeyed crescents of peach, buried beneath an oaten rubble. When baked, the fruit is exceedingly voluptuous, its flesh supple and its juices seeping out.

Each bite of golden peach was soaked heavy with the memory of sunshine. The rain doesn't seem so bad after all.

SOUR CREAM AND PEACH CRISP

My own thrown-together interpretation of a variety of sources, so I'll send credit to Deb for reminding me of the combination.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup old-fashioned, large flake oats (not instant)
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 1-2 teaspoons crystalized ginger, finely minced (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick, 8 tablespoons) cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 8 ounces sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 pounds peaches, cut into quarters
  • Coarse or sanding sugar for sprinkling (optional)

METHOD

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine flours, oats, brown sugar, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, ginger and salt. Using a pastry cutter, or the mixer on its lowest speed, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse, uneven meal. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir the remaining 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar with the sour cream and vanilla until dissolved.

Take a few scant handfuls of the oat mixture and sprinkle it in the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate or shallow dish. Spoon over the sour cream, spreading to cover completely. Arrange the peach slices, cut side up, on top of the cream. Sprinkle the remaining oat mixture over the fruit, leaving a bit of fruit peaking out of the edges. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the cream is set, the peaches are tender and the topping is golden brown. Allow to cool on a rack for a few minutes, serving warm or cold.

Makes one 9-inch crisp.

Notes:

• I used a five-grain rolled cereal instead of oats alone.

• I leave the skin on the peaches, as it helps them retain their shape and I like the prettiness of their scarlet-stained tips. If you prefer to blanch the skins and remove them, feel free to do so.

• This crisp is best when the peaches truly juicy; it is their moisture that helps set the cream into a layer akin to a custard, rather than becoming stodgy and dry. If you have any concerns, you can follow Sean's suggestion of adding a handful or two of berries (blackberries or raspberries would be particularly good).

It is beautiful out.

No wait, let me say it again for those who feel differently about heat than I do. It is hot. It is humid, with clear sunshine interspersed with rather-impressive thunderstorms and torrential rain.

Now I'll admit, I am a lucky one; I am one of those sorts that lives for heat and revels in temperatures others may consider rather sweltering. Dry heat or sticky with humidity, I will always choose a day that is blistering over a day that is remotely cold.

I even take particular joy the dramatic tendencies of our climate. There is something wholly romantic about a midday thunderstorm. The day suddenly turns to dusk, the air heavy and thick with moisture; and afterwards, who cannot enjoy the green, green, green smell of wet grass and soaking leaves, and the reward of a cool breeze. Even as I write this, rain is pouring through trees alight with sunshine and I can hear not-so-distant peals of thunder.

But, even though I consider the weather to be lovely and sultry, I can see my loved ones virtually wilting as the days go on. And so I feel compelled to aid as only I know how - with food.

While I will admit my days have been busier as of late, what with the arrival of our newborn son and the constant entertainment that is his big brother, I have still managed to get back in the kitchen. Like the lovely familiarity of a tune you've hummed for a lifetime, getting back to cooking and baking has brought me the satisfaction of beloved habits. In this mood I have been looking over my cookbook collection, rediscovering old favourites that somehow seem new again.

With that in mind, I have brought together a few of my best-loved recipes I hope will keep you cool for the summer nights ahead.